CAR: Government minister kidnapped by gunmen on way home from church

Members of the anti-balaka patrol outside the village of Zawa April 8, 2014.Reuters

Central African Republic's minister for youth and sport was kidnapped by gunmen on his way home from church on Sunday.

Armel Ningatoloum Sayo was driving his wife and brother back from church in the capital, Bangui, when four unidentified gunmen got out of a taxi and stopped their vehicle.

Sayo's spokeswoman, Tatiana Yangeko, said: "They got out of the taxi, shot in the air and forced the minister out of his car. They fled with him towards Boy Rabe," – a neighbourhood that is a stronghold of the 'anti-Balaka' militia.

Yangeko added that the Prime Minister had been told.

In a separate incident on Sunday, Education Minister Eloi Anguimate narrowly escaped captured capture in Kaga Bandoro, a town 186 miles north of Bangui, a government source told Reuters.

Although the minister escaped, his driver, assistant and the town's mayor were all seized, the source said.

These incidents follow the temporary kidnapping of a UN staff member and a French woman working for Catholic relief agency Caritas last week.

Central African Republic has been gripped by violence since the northern, mainly Muslim Seleka alliance rebelled and seized power in March 2013. The group was forced to stand aside last year having failed to contain clashes with the 'anti-Balaka' militia and the waves of tit-for-tat violence that went with the fighting.

The kidnapping of the Caritas worker has been linked to the arrest earlier this month by UN peace keepers of a senior member of the 'anti-Balaka' militia. The leader, known as General Andjilo, was wanted for crimes including murder, rebellion, rape and looting.

Sayo was a senior officer in the presidential guard before being arrested by former president Francois Bozize.

He led a northern rebel group called "Revolution and Justice" but was became a minister in the 2014 peace deal, which has seen little but conflict and political instability since independence from France in 1960.

Seleka rebels still occupy much of the north and the interim government is struggling to stamp its authority on the country. But France has started withdrawing some troops as the UN force, due to reach 10,000 by the end of April, deploys ahead of elections due later this year.

Additional reporting by Reuters